Online dating has grown tremendously popular in the past decade. When Match.com first launched in 1995, only 14 percent of Americans used the internet, according to Pew Research. Today, about 40 million Americans use online dating services and as many as one-third of marriages begin online.
If you are seeking a relationship, there are a number of popular services available for you to try. But first, a warning: be careful about looking for love online. Without realizing it, you may be placing your privacy in serious risk.
Identity theft hits the online dating scene
While online dating offers the opportunity to interact with people who you may otherwise never have encountered in your day-to-day life, it also carries with it the same risks that internet users always face — namely, that there is a growing population of thieves looking to defraud innocent users.
Last year, for example, the FBI warned that criminals were increasingly targeting divorced, widowed or disabled women over 40 on dating websites.
“Here’s how the scam usually works,” read the FBI’s press release. “You’re contacted online by someone who appears interested in you. He or she may have a profile you can read or a picture that is e-mailed to you. For weeks, even months, you may chat back and forth with one another, forming a connection. You may even be sent flowers or other gifts. But ultimately, it’s going to happen—your new-found ‘friend’ is going to ask you for money.”
Middle-aged women are far from the only victims. Online dating sites are increasingly popular destinations for thieves looking to steal anyone’s identity. In many ways, these sites are the perfect place to look: they provide endless lists of people complete with personal information and a way to contact them. If they can’t trick their victims into sending them money directly, some thieves may try to use the information in front of them to set up false financial accounts. A broken heart is even worse when it is accompanied by damage to your credit.
Luckily, there are steps that everyone can take to make their online dating experience safer:
- Be careful about what information you make public. Obviously, you don’t want to come off as a complete mystery to potential matches, but information such as your address, phone number or place of work are best withheld until you actually meet in person and decide if you’d like to take the relationship to the next step.
- Take it slow. This can be good dating advice in many contexts, but especially if you are concerned about ID theft. Potential matches who immediately ask you for personal information, or even for money, may not have your best interests at heart.
- Stay off unsecured networks. We’ve written before about the dangers of browsing the internet on public computers and Wi-Fi hotspots, and online dating is no different. Even if the people you are matched with don’t try to steal your identity, someone else may still be able to hack into the network and see your data that way.
If you’re ready to put yourself out there online, it’s important to think proactively about your personal information. Consider what tools or services you might invest in to protect your identity. An identity theft protection service should monitor your credit, Social Security Number and public record, and alert you to certain activity in your credit file that could indicate fraud. You also want to look for a service that provides software tools like keystroke encryption or anti-virus, and education on digital privacy and how you can lower your risk. Get yourself ready to pursue that love life online, but do it with Identity Guard on your side.